Whoosh! Issue 60 - September 2001


By Ramsey Harris
Content © 2001 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 2001 held by Whoosh!
2420 words

A Hero's Journey (01-03)
The Path to Redemption (04-07)
The Last Battleground (08-09)
An Eternal Legacy (10-12)
Beautiful Symmetry (13-16)
Weaknesses and Strengths (17-18)
Conclusion (19-20)


A Hero's Journey

I *said* I wanted extra wasabi and I *meant* it!
You can't keep a good heroine dead. Or can you?

[01] Xena is dead, long live Xena. In the final episode of this incredible series, much more than "just a TV show" to many of us, Xena chooses to die and remain dead for all time. This is a fitting end for the Warrior Princess. She chose her fate, as she taught Gabrielle and her many other students to also do. She made sure Gabrielle knew everything she knew and felt assured that Gabrielle was now perfectly capable of continuing on the path of good that they had so long walked together.

[02] Xena says, "Gabrielle, don't you know how much I want to let you do this" (rejuvenate her body from her ashes in the Fountain of Strength). That was the personal impulse, to come back to life, to live out this life with Gabrielle. As Lao Ma had once explained, it is easy to serve the ones you love. To serve those whom you do not love is the way to ultimate peace. Xena finally understands Lao Ma's message of hope.

[03] In these episodes, Akemi represents not only a shadowy figure from Xena's troubled past, but acts like a Greek chorus to explain the hero's journey, echoing the voices of Xena's mentor and her friend. Xena has sought redemption since first meeting Gabrielle in SINS OF THE PAST, and finally she understands how to achieve it. As a warrior, she must die in battle. As a hero, she must die to redeem her past sins. It is indeed a fitting end. Gabrielle understands that this time, the greater good is also the right thing for Xena: the peace she has sought all along.

The Path to Redemption

[04] In this remarkable series finale, echoes of SINS OF THE PAST remind us of the beginning of Xena's path to redemption, even as she achieves her ultimate goal. Love has brought her to the place where she could sacrifice herself without lingering guilt, without remorse for deeds yet undone or past evils yet unavenged. The vengeance that is sought is not that of the souls that Xena inadvertently and unknowingly condemned in Higuchi in the wake of her distraught and drunken blaze. No instead, the atonement is for all those who suffered and paid for Xena's anger, hostility, and blackened soul. What condemned Xena's soul in her violent past, the loss of love, has been undone by her realization that love does exist, that it is eternal, and above all, it is selfless.

[05] In the opening scene of the series' first episode, Xena buries her armor, her external protection from the world, from emotion, from all others. Without it, she assumes she will die. She is suicidal. She intends to die at the hands of some violent foe. She is unable to comprehend how she will ever silence the grief and pain she has begun to feel in her unchained heart. She cannot believe that she could ever atone for so much evil and destruction. Then she sees a glimmer of the way: to protect the innocent, to use her many skills for the greater good, and to help others. She places her armor on again and takes her first steps towards her own redemption, by freeing Gabrielle from the slave traders. A fateful moment indeed, as Gabrielle will show Xena that love is the only way.

[06] Xena struggles long and hard with this concept, and finally, ultimately understands the lessons of love from Lao Ma, Akemi, M'Lila, and Gabrielle, who finally shows Xena not only the way of love, but also the reality of love. Up until the very end, Xena needs her armor, perhaps to protect her from her own way. Then, alone, she strides into a battle that not even Xena can win, against three armies of the evil underworld lord, Yodoshi, whom she helped to create by teaching Akemi her deadly "pinch."

[07] Although Xena enters this battle with the intention of dying, this time she is not suicidal, but purposeful. Her death will allow her to achieve her purpose. In her last moments of life, she dons a ceremonial armor that allows her to be riddled with arrows and, with her implicit consent, killed in battle. Leading up to her final battle with Yodoshi, her ghost does not even wear armor, but a blood-red kimono. In the end, her warrior's soul appears again, personified by her signature armor, now a symbol of her goodness. The hero has come full circle, and in her death she redeems the world and sets a new hero upon her path.

The Last Battleground

[08] There was no other possible end for Xena. She has always been a warrior. In the seminal episode, THE WAY, she finally accepts that the Way of the Warrior is the right path for her in this life. She commits herself to it fully, for the first time without hesitation. However, her hero's journey is towards redemption. To fulfill this goal, she has to die. No other scenario makes sense or rings true. How hollow it would have been if she defeated Yodoshi and was simply brought back to life again, as the result of yet another set of arbitrary cultural traditions that define the mythology of her present location in Japan.

[09] Xena chooses her fate, chooses to remain dead for the ultimate good (unsatisfying last minute explanations notwithstanding). The most awkward line of the finale, which I will pretend was never said, was Xena's offhand explanation to Gabrielle why it was necessary for her not to bring Xena back: "Akemi did not want to tell me this, in case I wouldn't come back. (Since when would Xena think like that?) For those souls to achieve a state of grace, they must be avenged. I have to stay dead". That was a terrible bit of unnecessary rationalizing. Why not simply have Xena say "I choose to stay dead because it achieves my redemption, for all my crimes"?

An Eternal Legacy

[10] While I did not expect Xena to die in the first five minutes of the last episode, it was evident when she took her first or second arrow in that relentless hailstorm. Since it was her intent to die, it was gratifying to see her fight her heart out to the very end. The wash of blood as her head is severed could have been overlain with an image of Xena, arms outstretched, capitulating to her destiny. Having established that decapitation is the ultimate honorable Japanese death, Xena deserved no less in her last corporeal fight. It was surprising that Xena chooses not to be rejuvenated, rather than having the plot devise some reason for Gabrielle to fail to rejuvenate Xena. However, it was much more satisfying for both heroes to make their own choice: Xena to die and Gabrielle to allow her to.

[11] FRIEND IN NEED was rich with the imagery and themes that have always made Xena stand apart from any other mere "television program". It has been a cinematic epic for most of its 134 episodes, and I for one am very grateful for the dignified end our hero was given. A violent end to be sure, but no more so than her many other deaths (by crucifixion, by crushing, etc). This final battle needed to be graphic, violent, and wrenching in order to distinguish it from the innumerable battles that have preceded it. Was it an unjustified death? I think not. Xena has done the same and worse to others (remember Pompey?). I cannot imagine Xena dying in any less violent way than she perpetrated repeatedly upon others allowing her to reach the redemption she sought for herself. Xena lives on, in Gabrielle's heart, in her scrolls, where her legend persists and blossoms. Xena's death does not end her ability to do good, but begins her eternal legacy.

Beautiful Symmetry

Those jaw-clenching classes came in handy!
Gabrielle is upset, to say the least, upon discovering Xena's body.

[13] To earn her place in the future, as the Mother of Peace, as Gabrielle's eternal soulmate, Xena must accept the necessity of her sacrifice. The scene where Gabrielle finds Xena's decapitated body in the samurai camp is reminiscent of Maximus in the movie, Gladiator, who finds his wife and child burned and crucified. Gruesome and hard to watch, yes, but wrenching and emotional with a surprisingly satisfying certainty, that moment solidifies Gabrielle's determination to fight on for the one she loves. Gabrielle demonstrates in this scene perhaps better than any other her autonomy, courage, and her own emerging hero status.

[14] Defeating the samurai warrior in a single perfect move, we all know that Gabrielle has learned the lessons Xena taught her well. Yet in her own inimitable way, she still refuses to kill in cold blood or to fulfill the samurai's own wish for an honorable death, which she does not feel he deserves. Does she know then that Xena must ultimately die to achieve her own peace? Gabrielle understands this, and simply has difficulty accepting that it must be here and now. In the end, the ultimate symbolism of pupil replacing master is lovingly portrayed by Gabrielle's surprised chakram toss. The chakram has always been Xena's unique and sentient weapon, and it now appears to have chosen its new master in Gabrielle.

[15] Tears welled in my eyes watching Gabrielle sail away alone with only the solace of her memories and perhaps the knowledge that she will meet Xena again in many other lifetimes. While the death of my beloved hero was hard to watch and harder to accept, I am left with a sense of appropriate closure. On the path of the warrior, the greatest honor is to die in battle, for the right reasons, reaching for the ultimate goal. As sad as it was to know Gabrielle would have to live out this life alone, I felt confident, as did Xena, that she was ready for the challenge, and in fact was able to take over for her teacher and friend. Indeed, I began to wonder if Gabrielle could ever truly be fulfilled as a sidekick, a pupil, or even an equal partner. Her own journey begins here as Xena's journey ends, and I expect Gabrielle will become a great hero in her own right. I suppose she will entomb Ares along with Xena's broken chakram and mother the progeny that we have been introduced to.

[16] With a beautiful symmetry, the master achieves redemption due to the lessons of the pupil. In turn, the student achieves the status of the master and goes on to carry on her deeds. I do not believe that Gabrielle has yet defined her own way, her true path, but that this knowledge is still ahead for her. This is why it is fitting that she should go on.

Weaknesses and Strengths

[17] Were there weaknesses in the plot and its execution? Certainly I have a few nitpicks, mainly the use of yet another set of seemingly arbitrary rules governing the living and the dead which must be followed to the letter. I was initially irritated by the introduction of a heretofore unknown character and series of events from Xena's past in the final moments. However, I have since come to view Akemi as more of a symbol of all Xena's teachers or pupils and the journey they led her to, and as the 40,000 souls to be an epic symbol of all Xena's wrongs and past victims.

[18] That the episode should mirror THE DEBT is appropriate, as Lao Ma began to introduce Xena to the idea of redemption through selfless love all those years ago. Some actions or explanations seemed hurried or expedient and could have been executed more elegantly. That is par for the show, so it is too late to become distraught over it now. I would have liked to see some closure for Xena and Eve, and perhaps even Ares. Ultimately such details become irrelevant with the understanding that Xena has atoned for her past, a thought that fills me with joy. In the end, Xena's redemption (if she believes it is so, then so do I), Gabrielle's acceptance and willingness to embark on her own adventure, leaves me quite satisfied. The overarching themes of the series have been fulfilled.


[19] As a final note, the look, feel, and portrayal of this finale was among the finest for the entire show. The lavish costumes and scenery, the haunting music that I will always think of as the Japan Love Theme, Akemi's lovely poetry, Gabrielle's beautiful dragon tattoo, Xena's fiery red kimono, Xena riddled with arrows blazing a path to her death, and so many other incredible details. This finale was clearly made with love and care.

[20] Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor gave stellar performances. Gabrielle's melancholy smile as she embarks upon her solo journey stands in stark contrast to the moment that Xena began her own, in those first moments of SINS OF THE PAST. We know her love for Xena will always give her strength. Both actors made me believe the unbelievable many times over the years, and that their hearts were poured into this finale was evident. Many thanks to Lucy Lawless, Renee O'Connor, Rob Tapert, and company for a wonderful, magical ride. As Salmoneus lamented on the occasion of Xena's first death: "Proud warrioress, [we] will miss you."


harris Ramsey Harris
Ramsey is a doctor by trade, and is constantly amazed to discover all the medical techniques pioneered by Xena, the Warrior Princess. She discovered Xena in the fourth season on the advice of friend from New Zealand who said: "the show's cheesy, but the scenery is beautiful". She has been obsessed ever since.

Favorite episode: THE WAY
Favorite line: Xena: "I don't have the patience of Gabrielle, the love of Eli, or the serenity of my mentor, Lao Ma. I'm just an angry, *ss-kicking—Yes, a warrior." THE WAY; Julius Caesar: "Good senators! True patriots of Rome! Your attention, please! I have an announcement to make. I've invented a new salad…" IDES OF MARCH (blooper tape).
First episode seen: CRUSADER
Least favorite episode: SEND IN THE CLONES



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